Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Alternate Traveller Campaign Frames: High Guard

After the release of Book 4 Mercenary showed that there was a market for expanding on the careers of the original game, the next obvious direction to look was the Navy, those masters of the spaceways. Where Mercenary added more guns and other ironmongery, Book 5 High Guard added a new spaceship design sequence that could handle ships up to 200 times larger than the largest ships of the original spaceship design rules! To supplement those monstrously large spaceships, the supplement also included a new spaceship combat game that could handle larger numbers of spacecraft than the miniatures-based one from the original books.

Which was all fine and dandy until you realized that they forgot to include anything to actually do with those big spaceships and battle fleets. Unlike Mercenary, the authors forgot to include a campaign framework that made those spacecraft useful to anyone's game. So they sat down and did two things.

First, they rewrote the supplement. The first edition was kind of a mess, and the ships that came out of that design sequence weren't very interesting. Second, they released Adventure 5 Trillion Credit Squadron. TCS, as it quickly became known, was a radical departure at the time, presenting a campaign system with a rudimentary "domain" game that served to provide a reason for large fleets of giant spacecraft to fire weapons at each other. The players would play combination Admiral/Planetary Government and send ships at each other in a sort of roleplaying/wargame mashup. Except that there was a lot less of the roleplaying, a situation that would have to wait 16 years to be repaired, albeit imperfectly, but that is so different that it really represents a different campaign frame, and I will come back to it in a later installment.

In TCS, the game is changed to play in weeks, and each week allows six phases: Jumps, Communication and Intelligence, Battles, Changes of Control, Refueling, and Final Operations. I won't go into too much detail, but most of those phases are pretty self-explanatory. The Final Operations phase is the one in which campaign-level events occurred, such as ordering new ships, ship construction being completed, multi-week activities like being repaired, and so on. Planets would generate revenue based on the Traveller world statistics (UPP or Universal Planetary Profile), and the relative value of wealth from one world compared to the others based on technology level and the local starport. The campaign frame was more like a wargame than a roleplaying game, but that was OK.

Or, the Referee could just specify that a certain technology limit and certain other limits (minimum Jump capability, number of pilots available, and so on) applied, and let two players generate squadrons that just fought it out in one big battle (this method was also the basis of the Tournament Play method). TCS was pretty flexible.

Another way to use High Guard came up in one of the issues of Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, in which a campaign frame of active-duty Navy and Marine personnel would engage in mission-based adventures. The article included a way of generating the pay scale for those services and gave some advice and basic adventure seeds (one piece of advice was to watch or read The Sand Pebbles for ideas of the sorts of trouble that Navy personnel can get up to on shore leave, which is pretty depressing advice really; it's a good book and movie, but not particularly a happy one). So, out of one supplement, two or so campaign frames ultimately came around. The Active-Duty campaign, of course, was a little more under Referee control than the basic game (or TCS), much like the Mercenary campaign framework, and shares similar advantages and disadvantages. It does point out that we are seeing the same forces that were present in the hobby as a whole at the time affecting perceptions of how to play Traveller. That would become a big problem with the next edition of the game, MegaTraveller. Many of the sandbox tools remained to be used, so that edition wasn't entirely lost to the "storyteller" style of gaming. In fact, as we shall see, several campaign frames that are very much sandbox oriented have yet to come about by the end of classic Traveller.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Character Improvement In MegaTraveller (And Jack Of All Trades)

After a great deal of criticism over the unorthodox character improvement system in classic Traveller, the design team for the revision, MegaTraveller, decided to include a system that was more like that used in other games, allowing a character to improve through using the skills rather than through an extended program of study and practice. It was still different enough from the improvement systems of other games that it was overlooked by many, but mainly that was due to the poor layout that was common to games of the time. It was placed in a counterintuitive point in the rules, and only took up three pages (plus a paragraph in the Referee's Manual, though that wasn't explicitly tied to the improvement system - which is another mistake of presentation in my opinion).

MegaTraveller decided to include a system not entirely unlike the RuneQuest system of improving skills and attributes. Each session of play, the Referee would award to each character an "Adventure Tally" or "AT" in a skill that saw significant use by the character during the session. Each skill could only have two ATs per one-year period, so each was marked with the date in standard Traveller Imperium date format, so for instance "AT-Stealth (023-1120)", to help keep track. At the beginning of each session (or at the end of the current one after ATs are handed out, it doesn't matter so long as it is kept consistent), the player could try to improve any skills with ATs. It requires a Task check of Formidable difficulty (so needing a base of 15+ on 2D), to which roll the player can add the Int modifier (+0 to +3, usually +1) and the number of ATs on the skill. As always, there is a limit of +8 on the roll, so the best chance of success is going to be a roll of 7+. A success would give the skill at level 0 if the character did not have it, or raise it one level if the character did have it at level 0 or greater already. When a successful roll to raise the skill happens, then the ATs for that skill are erased (but erasing ATs does not occur until the skill is raised, so there is no penalty for failure on this roll other than not gaining the skill) and the character can gain more ATs as normal.

Now, it is really difficult to use a skill that the character doesn't possess at a level of at least 0, because the difficulty of any such Tasks is increased by a level, or 4 points harder on the dice (from 7+ to 11+, for instance). There are two ways of gaining a temporary level 0 in a skill, though. First is by observation. Watching someone else performing a skill allows a character to make a Task check to gain a level-0 in the skill for one use. Also, it is possible to use computer programs to assist and gain a level-0 on the same temporary basis.

Attributes use a similar system of ATs, but the player must specify which single attribute they wish the character to be pursuing this session, and if that particular attribute sees significant use the Referee can award it an AT.

In addition, characters can search for and undergo formal training in a skill or attribute. This requires a Task check to find the training program, then a Determination Task to stay committed. Failing the Determination Task can result in wasting the time and money for the program, as the amount of time the Task takes is used to see how long before the character drops out of the program (and this can represent showing up but not applying oneself to the course of study)! Once formal training is completed, there is another Task to see if the skill or attribute is gained or improved. A typical course of study requires 200 hours, arranged as appropriate (so an intensive 5-week course of 40 hours of study per week or self-study at 5 hours per week for 40 weeks or whatever). Such programs normally cost around Cr10 per hour.

Social Standing is improved or lowered by paying more or less than normal for upkeep (normal upkeep cost is Cr250 × Soc per month), though increasing Soc is limited to level A (10), since noble status can't be gained by this method. Such levels of Social Standing need to be granted by Imperial authorities, I would imagine.

Jack of All Trades skill has always been a strange beast in different editions of Traveller. Classic Traveller was fairly obscure about how it should be used, though reading the rules seems to indicate that any level of Jack of All Trades allows the use of any other skill as if it were possessed at level 0, with no additional benefit to higher levels. Other editions of Traveller have allowed levels of Jack of All Trades to offset penalties for lacking skill (GURPS Traveller makes it into an advantage that adds to skills from their defaults, Mongoose Traveller adds to attempts to use skills that aren't possessed by the character, and so on), but MegaTraveller took a different tack. In that edition, it was possible to retry failed tasks that weren't instant (instant tasks are things like combat tasks and whatever that may take some time in an absolute sense, but not any significant amount). A normal failure (a failure by 1) allows a free retry, but an Exceptional Failure (failure by 2 or more) requires a Determination Task check. A failure on that Task increases the difficulty of the Task by one level, while a success allows a retry at the current difficulty. Retries, of course, take the normal amount of time. Jack of All Trades skill allowed the character a number of free retries of Exceptionally Failed Tasks equal to the level of the Jack of All Trades skill. This is "representing the character's resourcefulness", which seems like a really good way of modeling it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Alternate Traveller Campaign Frames: Mercenary

I previously discussed the default assumed game in Traveller, in which the players maneuvered their characters to scramble for payoffs from patrons and sometimes following up tantalizing rumors. That wasn't the only way to play the game, though, and a few other options were explored through the various expansions and editions. I'll cover some of these in this occasional series, and who knows? Maybe I'll outline some others.

The first alternative game was in the very first supplemental release for Traveller, the ground military expansion Book 4 Mercenary. (It's possible that Supplement 1 1001 Characters preceded it since both were released in the same year, but I haven't been able to confirm which came out first and both came out the year before I played my first roleplaying/adventure game.) Mercenary provided an expanded character creation system, which is all well and good, but more importantly it introduced the idea that the players could be employee-soldiers in a mercenary company, fighting for pay where they were told to go by their superiors, hoping one day, perhaps, to become those superiors. It included a rudimentary mass combat system (requiring a great deal of work by the Referee, since it was nearly nonexistent), and it also included the patron-substitute of a Mercenary-based campaign, the Ticket. Tickets were descriptions of the mission for which the company was to be hired, including objectives, pay, and other details. Some of the patrons in 76 Patrons, in fact, are Tickets instead of people. A typical Ticket might have the players travel to a backwater planet on which the locals were gearing up to fight each other and train the troops of one side or another. No doubt, many Referees introduced all sorts of complications. This campaign didn't include the detailed structure of play found in the default game, but that is because its own structure was very simple and mission-based. Eventually, GDW released a mass combat, or rather skirmish-level, miniatures game that interfaced very well with the Mercenary campaign frame.

Mercenary-based games were rather unlike normal Traveller games. In the normal game, the players would have maximum freedom of movement and choice of which adventure threads to take up. In a Mercenary-based game, the players went where they were told. That would usually be by the Referee, at least at first. Later, one or more of the players might find themselves in charge of a mercenary group. In some cases, the Referee would take a player whose character had long military experience and put them in charge from the beginning. In the cases where one or more players were in charge, that player or those players would be able to pick from a selection of mercenary Tickets proposed by the Referee, giving them somewhat more flexibility.

The course of play was more flexible than the day-to-day scheduling of the standard game, too. Once a Ticket was accepted, the time to travel would be simply calculated and then assumed to go without incident (unless the Referee had something up their sleeve). From there, the situation would play out in a more freeform method, the Referee adjudicating the results of the plans proposed by the players. Depending on the Referee, this could be either narratively handled or structured as an ad hoc wargame, with maps to regulate movement and perhaps Striker to handle direct contact. Striker was designed with roleplaying in mind, in fact, being centered on "orders" and the time of transmission for those by various methods of communication (providing the real benefit of battlefield computers, as an aside), and using a simplified form of the Traveller combat system so that injuries to two dozen soldiers didn't need to be tracked closely, itself based on the system originally included in Azhanti High Lightning. That simplified system would ultimately be used in MegaTraveller after some modification.

After the Ticket was completed and the unit was paid, the Referee would have to work up some expenses (replacement ammo and supplies, for example), plus the troops needed to get paid, and then the unit would look for another mission. Repeat as necessary and as interest held.

The main disadvantage of this campaign frame is the fairly straight-ahead nature of it: the players are given a mission and must solve the mission to gain the reward. There is little room for the players' characters to have their own goals that they can pursue with as much dedication as the default campaign framework. It isn't quite a railroad, as the players are given much leeway to decide exactly how they intend to carry out their mission, but the goals are not their own. That said, since it is a game in which the quantifiable goal is the pursuit of money first and foremost, it is perfectly possible for the characters to become wealthy enough to be able to make their own plans, eventually. This framework is probably most useful to players who prefer the more modern ways of gaming, as a compromise between the sandbox and the "adventure path", but it should also appeal strongly to those with an interest in military SF.

Note that it was possible to mix the Mercenary campaign frame with the default one, but I don't know anyone who did that, and I am not sure if it would be as interesting as either frame separately. That said, a campaign that alternated between Tickets and the players' characters getting in undirected trouble (using the default encounter/patron system) while on leave between the Tickets might be quite interesting.

Another interesting thing about the Mercenary campaign structure is the fact that it may have the most flexibility, ironically, in terms of the flow of any particular session. While the standard game has a pretty fixed "flow" (find cargo/freight, find patrons/rumors, resolve patrons and random encounters, rinse and repeat with only occasional variation), a mercenary Ticket can take a large number of forms, from the Cadre Ticket in which the players train the native troops to the Assault Ticket in which they go in guns blazing, and any number of others that the Referee can dream up. Again, the expense is that the stories that arise inherently owe a lot more to the Referee and less to the players and their characters, but some groups may find this structure worth it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Traveller Misconception And Describing The Structure Of Play

There's a lot about the original Traveller game to love (usually called Classic Traveller these days, and I will follow suit here; for the rest of this article, I will call it CT - and because it is the easiest to get now, being available in POD or electronic format from DriveThruRPG, I will use references from The Traveller Book). It's simple yet detailed, practical yet adventurous, short yet broad-ranging in scope. CT presented a default setting that was both science-fictional and familiar at once, walking a narrative line between "hard" SF and interstellar adventure. This article will cover two points: the misunderstanding that most people have about character improvement in CT and the basic structure of play in CT (which is dramatically different than that of more "story-oriented" gaming in recent years, but also somewhat different than RPGs of the D&D form of structure, which is most other RPGs). Here's a cut, since this ran long.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More Notes On My Ideal Roleplaying Game

Photo of Hardenstein LARP adventurers, 2014
Found on Wikipedia in the
"Live action role-playing game" article
After I wrote up the general outline of my ideal Fantasy Heartbreaker, I noticed that I forgot a few things. This post is intended to add on to that by describing some specific rules and systems from other games that I would like to adapt to the game I am currently calling "MOHb".

First, and I am not sure why I forgot this in the initial outline, I would definitely include a system of character personality based on the Personality Traits and Passions from Pendragon. To date, that is the best system I have seen for simulating and quantifying the particular attitudes and emotions of characters. It also allows for developing local attitudes by providing initial trait modifiers, while not constraining characters to being provincial stereotypes. That said, I think that I'd like to try to simplify down the central list of personality traits. Among other things, I'd probably just include a list of Virtues and let low levels of the Virtue be the same as having the associated Vice. I would allow for very high or very low (even negative) values for those Virtues.

Some variations of the mental health systems of Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies would seem to also be helpful. In fact, the latter version allows for a wide range of mental balance matters that would be an excellent complement to the Personality Traits and Passions system mentioned above.

The concept of Religious Inspiration from Fantasy Wargaming. One of the most difficult things to simulate in gaming is the effect of religious feeling. Inspiration seems to me like an excellent mechanism for that, covering what some Christians call "Feeling the Spirit", but which is present in pretty much any religious ceremony to one degree or another. This might also be the basis of allowing spirit possession in those religious rites that include that result among people who aren't otherwise spirit channelers/trance mediums (Vodoun, Pentecostal sects, and so on). This would be the goal of most religious ritual, though other sorts such as exorcisms, forms of therapy, and so on would also exist.

Whatever other Domain level mechanisms I include, the "Hijinks" attached to extralegal organizations in ACKS are a mechanism which I must include some version. The concept of having people out trawling for rumors, eavesdropping, and so on is the very basis of an intelligence network. Obviously, I'd generalize the matter, so that it isn't merely limited to the organizations set up by a single type of Template or Class.

Related to Domain level rules, I have always liked the social climbing model in Flashing Blades. In that, exact positions and titles are integrated into a unified social status, with equivalent titles adding together to increase social status to the next level (two titles "worth" status 12 each would boost the character's overall status to 13, for example; note specifically that those two status 12 titles, worth 13 together, would also add together with a third title worth status 13 to boost up to 14).

Another element that I would like to include, when the game is expanded to cover modern and future settings, is something based on the corporate warfare system of the TORG supplement Nippon Tech. I always wanted to play a Megacorp CEO in that game (the template was in the supplement!), but none of my Referees were ever very receptive to the idea. The trade and commerce systems in GURPS Traveller: Far Trader include similar concepts that would also influence the specific design. This would probably integrate with the ideas on organizations which I discuss below.

Speaking of which, the Trade and Commerce systems from GURPS Traveller: Far Trader would definitely complement the more social systems related to trade found in GURPS Social Engineering, not to mention the price fluctuations found in the Rolemaster rulebook Campaign Law (at least in the 1st edition Character Law & Campaign Law that I have; I haven't seen the 2nd edition in years, so I don't remember if they kept that).

Also on the subject of economies, the supplement Grain Into Gold provides an excellent framework for developing an economy for a specific setting. I would want to make use of a similar framework in any campaign design notes. By the way, if you are like me and into the idea of developing rational economies for your setting, that supplement is easily worth the cost. It allows you to manipulate the various assumptions underlying your setting's economy and come up with useful baseline numbers for purchased items of all types. With only a little more work, it can be expanded to cover interacting economies, economies based on different fundamentals (the basic economy in the supplement is based on food production, but economies based on other things could probably be developed, with a little effort, from the basic outline).

In addition to several editions of RuneQuest, GURPS Spirits, and Dogs in the Vineyard, I am looking at the spirit rules from Horror HERO (for 4th edition, which are also found in the HERO System Almanac I).

Horror HERO also has some interesting mechanisms involving short- and long-term mental stress that I might incorporate. I am remembering a PBM game called Power, The Star Throne Beckons from ECI (later released independently as Star Throne, sadly on a defunct website only viewable through In that game, individual personality characters (as opposed to factions, starships, and groups) would generate stress as the result of performing or being the target of various actions and require stress-relieving actions to reduce it, such as going on vacation or the like. That would make a good mental complement to a short- and long-term fatigue system, which I had already decided on using. It could also provide a concrete game benefit to actions like carousing, drug use, or carnal relations, all of which could also have potential negative side effects. Tradeoffs are good.

In Lands of Adventure, weapons are divided up by their relative weight categories (relative to the character's strength). These affect how often that the weapons can be used in a turn, but players can choose to swing them more frequently by paying EP ("Energy Points"). I think that this is a good idea to incorporate. I might also allow spending short-term fatigue for "extra effort", such as a stronger hit, more focused attack, or the like - basically, most of the things that GURPS includes under "All-Out" actions and "Extra Effort" modifiers.

I'm currently going back and forth on the idea of explicitly including stats for a character's inherent "soul" or "spirit". This would be things like POW from RuneQuest, the LP ("Life Points") and to some extent the EP of Lands of Adventure, the "Soul Departure" rules from Rolemaster, and so on. I dunno, though. I may just want to keep those things implicit rather than explicit. The more that I can allow people to interpret rules as representing whichever metaphysical assumptions they prefer, the better. Which is, by the way, another reason to look especially at Dogs in the Vineyard for ideas on how to define spirits in game terms (though, of course, I will want to avoid the moral judgements on spirits implicit in that game). I want to leave it open for people who prefer materialistic explanations to interpret "spirits" as the subtle factors in a situation that are difficult to reduce to simple ad hoc modifiers, such as the imposition of meaning by the parties involved or the spread of memes or psychological archetypes or whatever, while also leaving it open for people (such as myself) who find the experience of independent nonphysical entities to be a convincing explanation or model for some aspects of human existence.

It occurs to me now that HeroQuest (or the first edition, Hero Wars), the more narrative rules designed for Glorantha, also includes some good ways of looking at spirits. I'll have to see if there's anything I can adopt from that, too.

One of the best things about the sixth book of the Thieves' Guild series was the set of rules covering "saltbox" adventuring. That is, it had a set of encounter tables for both normal encounters (ships and monsters) and land encounters (uncharted islands, island chains, all the way up to new continents!) while sailing as pirates or merchants. I'd definitely want saltbox and more traditional sandbox assistants like those. There are a lot of sandbox assistants in AD&D and also in the various Judges Guild products from which I can draw inspiration. The various games from Sine Nomine also include some excellent sandbox rules.

There are several games that include rules for "factions" and "organizations" and the like. GURPS has several types, such as GURPS City Stats, GURPS Boardroom & Curia, and so on. ACKS has similar systems, as do various Sine Nomine games like Stars Without Number, Silent Legions, and so on. I think that the first game I saw do that meaningfully was Reign, actually (though the first edition of CORPS also outlined a similar system, but dropped the ball on making very much use of it; there's more discussion of using the abstract stats in the second edition, so perhaps it was first after all). These are simplified and abstracted ways of describing organizations and groups, rather than the method more common previously (in games like Chivalry & Sorcery or Realms of the Unknown, not to mention D&D itself) of simply describing the actual assets. The older method is somewhat unwieldy, but still has its virtues. I'd probably want to develop ways to make rough conversions between the abstract characteristics and the concrete assets so that a Referee could choose which is more easily used in their game.

Because it would be important for a "dynastic" type game, which I specifically want the rules to be able to support, I would want some fairly detailed rules for pregnancy and childbirth. There are a couple of models out there, a couple in GURPS but also in Pendragon and some other games and supplements, but I'd also want to do my own research into specific numbers.

So, going over all of these things in this and the previous post, what I am seeing that I want is a game with some detail allowing for meaningful player-character decisions, especially in terms of interfacing the players' choices into the detailed game setting without necessarily defaulting to modern Western cultures, a range of action from hoboes (murder- and otherwise) to nobility with the implicit "zero-to-hero" game being a solid - but not the only - option, no inherently particular focus on any aspect of play (combat/adventure, social, domain, crafting/invention, etc), sandbox-friendly, with some unusual detail on the particulars of individual characters (personality, exact injuries in combat, mental and physical fitness, etc). Of existing games, GURPS comes closest to what I would want, but falls down heavily in the "sandbox-friendly" aspect (lacking a viable random character creation system is a big culprit here, but there's more; admittedly, some of the issues are being resolved - slowly - as more supplements such as GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables are released, but my experience is that there is a deep resistance to and even resentment toward random character creation in the GURPS community so I don't expect that issue to ever be resolved to my satisfaction). Aesthetically, I also prefer consistently "roll high" systems to the GURPS "roll high for some things, low for others". Still, if someone were to come up with viable random character creation system and other sandbox support, plus probably a descriptive injury system to replace the hit point system, I'd probably just go with that game as it would be close enough. Lacking those, though, I see strong reasons to design a more ideal game for my purposes, which is probably a good thing in the end.

Five Games I'd Like To Run

I guess that it's going around, but I saw Joseph Bloch do it, and now I am. A list of five games that I'd like to run, at least as I am sitting here right now tonight.

1. Spirits of the Trail: This is a sixguns & sorcery game, in which the players are traveling by land from the settled Eastern States to the great port of the west coast, Angel City. It would be a picaresque of adventures through the towns of the sparsely settled western territories where their only protections are the guns at their belts and their spirit allies. At this point, it would be run using GURPS rules, since not only does that game have excellent methods of handling gunfights and hand-to-hand melees, but also the sort of magic I want in the poorly-named "Path/Book Magic" system found in GURPS Thaumatology, which keeps me from having to write a new one to fit into something like Boot Hill or whatever.

2. Dark Space: Back in the '80s, a guy named Monte Cook wrote a setting book which was specifically intended to merge Rolemaster and Space Master in a cluster of worlds that included faeries and Lovecraftian horrors, adding biotechnology on top. I have always been interested in that setting, but never had a chance to play in it. I wouldn't mind running it.

3. Flanaess Sector: I talked about using AD&D to make a science-fiction setting, using the outlandish monsters of the D&D underworld as the basis of aliens. Illithid, Gulguthra, Flumphs, and Grell, among many others, seem like they would make for a fascinating setting in the stars. This would be the hardest to do right now, as I haven't done the work of designing the new character classes and technology I'd want to use. At least 1st edition AD&D already has a psionics system, though.

4. Under the Moons of Mars: I really, really want to run a game set on a Leigh Brackett/C.L. Moore-inspired Mars. I'd probably leave open the possibilities of traveling to Venus as well, but that wouldn't be the focus. I don't have a good opening situation for this yet, but it wouldn't be hard to come up with one. GURPS Mars had a good version of such a world in its "Dying Mars" chapter, which I'd probably use as the basis, though redesigning the canal system to match Lowell's canal maps more - though the canal through the Valles Marineris is so awesome that I'd probably include it nearly unchanged.

5. Hârn: Using Hârnmaster. There's so much to love about that setting, but I've never gotten a chance to play in it. I think that I might prefer to have someone else run it, but I'd do it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Expanding On My Fantasy Heartbreaker Ideas

Image originally from Big Fish Games
A little while ago, I posted on the various gaming projects I have going. I haven't really gotten anywhere on any of them for various reasons, mostly having to do with work and other obligations. I did make a comment elsewhere which caused me to think about expanding my thoughts on one of them, though.

Whoops. Wrong "Heartbreaker".
One of the projects I mentioned was "MOHb", my very own roleplaying Fantasy Heartbreaker (loosely interpreted). That is a game that would incorporate the things that I like from various other games into one, hopefully cohesive, whole. It's that qualifier to be "cohesive" that is the important element. It wouldn't be hard to just slap together the various systems in which I'm interested and jury-rig the game at the table, but to make them work together smoothly would be a work of design. It's that design work, in fact, that keeps me from just slapping together something, putting a cover on it, and selling it at I have (perhaps too much, considering how difficult it's been for me to publish any gaming materials other than this blog) some pride of craftsmanship that keeps me from doing it half-assed like that.

So, I figure that, for now, I can just discuss where I see that project going. I'll describe the systems that interest me and why, give an overview of some of my initial thoughts, and throw it all out so that you readers can see something of how I think about gaming. It's not really a work of staggering genius - I am, after all, just thinking of ways to tie together the disparate designs of others in pursuit of an experience that I think I'd like.

The comment that got me thinking about that today, was in a YouTube comment thread (now incorporated into Google+) on a video that rehashes the old "D&D combat isn't realistic because armor shouldn't make you harder to hit" chestnut. I started out by giving the normal rebuttal "D&D combat is abstracted in these particular ways", and a couple comments later noted what I'd like to see in a roleplaying game's combat system: "I'd like a combat system that incorporates the detail and tactical choices of GURPS (including some of the high-detail options like 'The Last Gasp', which regulate the pacing of combat in an emergent way), the naturalistic scales of Swordbearer, and the descriptive wound system of Hârnmaster."

This is your last warning.
What I'll do is go through a notional outline of my ideal game and describe what I'd like to do. WARNING: LOTS OF VERY GEEKY, NECKBEARD, GROGNARD, WHATEVER-YOU-WANT-TO-CALL-IT DISCUSSION FOLLOWS. Also, since it runs long, you get a cut-tag.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Death And Dismemberment Revisited

Ha ha! You are disarmed!
I haven't been blogging much lately, as you can probably tell. Still, I am busy enough, so maybe I can just update something here.

One of the things that I've done for the Middle Sea setting that I wanted to note is to incorporate some of the ideas that I had originally intended for the Black Blood of the Earth setting. It turns out that they won't be easily incorporated using D&D rules, but I've also been thinking about how to approach the setting as general fiction worldbuilding. So, I'll probably skip the Black Blood of the Earth stuff for the game, but the idea of a limited resource related to magic that is starting to run out is one that keeps drumming at the back of my skull, as it were. Whatever, this blog is mainly for gaming, at least for now. I might talk about it some other time, though, as I'm starting to play with the idea of using GURPS to play out some of the fiction and to give it a coherent "physics" of a sort. I am resisting the temptation to start a project of developing a dedicated game system for it, however. You don't know how hard that temptation is to resist.

A while back, I included a list of possible house rules for the Middle Sea or Terra Ultima settings. After thinking about those, I worked out some clarifications of some of them, some simplifications, and so on. I want to present here my current thinking on Death & Dismemberment.

In D&D, and explicitly so in AD&D, hit points are not meant to refer (at least exclusively) to physical damage. They represent a range of things, from fatigue, to physical toughness (so, in part to physical damage), skill, divine favor, and so on - or, put more simply, to the general staying power of a character. The thing is, though, that the rules as written don't support that concept well. Particularly, healing and the effects of damage are poor representatives of that philosophy of hit points.

As a result, some people decided a few years ago to experiment with ways of approaching what happens to a character when it runs out of hit points. What would happen, they asked, if instead of just running out of hit points and "going negative" (reducing hit points to negative numbers and starting a clock that runs out with the character dying by losing hit points every round while in negative numbers, sometimes with the ability to stop the clock by giving first aid treatment), hit points were a buffer against actual wounds? That is, hits that did "damage" points after the character had no more hit points would be rolled on a chart of wounds that would then affect the character. Among other things, this makes a character more survivable even with low amounts of hit points, since not every wound would kill the character. A number of such charts were quickly created, and a couple of published games used the idea for their versions of D&D-like games (ACKS is notable in this regard). You can find links to many of these tables here, here, and here.

I thought about the idea, and finally decided that I wanted my AD&D Death & Dismemberment table to interface with the Clerics' healing spells. That meant that there should be results of "Light", "Serious", and "Critical" to go along with the appropriate healing spells. The early version is in the house rules post I linked above, but here is my current version (conveniently behind a cut):

Monday, June 1, 2015

Magical Girls In Old School SF Gaming

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
I used to be embarrassed to admit it, but I have a soft spot for Magic Girl anime. I've given up that embarrassment (and honi soit qui mal y pense). Sailor Moon, Minky Momo, Fancy Lala, all of them. The genre has a romance and innocence that I need as a counter to my usually grim, gritty, noir predilections. I only ever bought (and still own) two Tri-Stat games: Ghost Dog and Sailor Moon. In some way, that explains a whole lot about me.

As many of you know, I'm in the middle of writing an SF game based on Swords & Wizardry: White Box, which takes a different tack toward the material than White Star did.

What brings these two facts together today? It turns out that there is a release for White Star of a supplement that details a Magic Girl character class, Star Sailors. Obviously, I bought it right away. It's good, if you like that sort of thing, and I do. I will have to make sure that, whatever I end up doing, it will remain compatible with this. I will have to point people toward it in Spectacular Science Stories. It can be an alternative to the Psychic Warriors, perhaps as a rival "organization". Since it can be thought of as similar to the Green Lantern Corps or perhaps the Lensmen, it even fits the setting to some degree.

Star Sailors are empowered by the Star Entity to fight against the Gloom. They gain several abilities, such as their Transformation and Starlight Wand, the Starlight Blast (100' range increment, 1d6+level damage) and the Mascot, and especially the Color of Their Heart power. Those last have names like Royal Passion Rapture (for the color violet), Luminous Courage Glow (for yellow), or Lava Ray Escalation (for red). The Mascot is an animal companion, very intelligent and wise, that grows (or "evolves") as the character rises in level.

(Hat tip to Tim Brannan for bringing this to my attention.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ruminating On Gaming Projects

Because the best thing to do when stuff needs
to be done is something else.
Sometimes, you have to sit back and take stock. I've been letting myself run wild and take on a number of gaming projects. I'm not sure if I should continue with all of them, what priority I should put on them, and so on, so it is time to think about that. I'm doing it here because it might help someone else see how another person organizes his thoughts, because someone might mention something that casts this all in a whole new light, and because doing things publicly helps force me to discipline my thinking a little.

First, let me just catalog the projects I have active, or at least semi-active, at this time, not counting actually playing games:
  1. A Top Secret retroclone.
  2. A MegaTraveller retroclone/revision attached to a space operatic setting.
  3. Spectacular Science Stories (aka Rockets & Rayguns).
  4. A Fantasy Wargaming retroclone/update.
  5. A "sixguns & sorcery" setting for GURPS.
  6. Flanaess Sector (for AD&D 1E).
  7. Updating GURPS Voodoo: The Shadow War for GURPS 4E.
  8. Codifying my version of the Trait System.
  9. GURPS Greyhawk.
  10. A magic system for Flashing Blades.
  11. A mashup of Traveller and Flashing Blades.
  12. My ideal roleplaying/adventure game system (mostly in the notes stage). It should be "semi-generic" in that it is intended to cover a number of genres, but all with the same "tone", for lack of a better term.
That, you might notice, is a lot. Several of these projects are stalled for various reasons that I will get to in a moment. Note that some of these have been projects I've undertaken for nearly the whole four-year existence of this blog. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might notice a couple of projects have been dropped from the "active/semi-active" list, such as the WRG Ancients-based RPG or a couple of attempts at an AD&D setting. The setting, actually, is also an ongoing project, but I'm not counting it here since it is purely for my own private use. I do intend to post about the current state of it at some point. The WRG Ancients RPG served its purpose and has been put to bed. Some of the ideas that came up in it have been incorporated into other projects.

Here's the thing, though. All of those projects kind of get in each other's way. For instance, I frequently find myself working feverishly at one of them for a while, then stepping away to another one, and when coming back to the first one finding out that I want to tear down some of what I'd already done and rework it. That's not really helpful if I ever want to finish any of these, and I do want to do that.

So, the first thing to do is to figure out what is most hampering each project at this point.

  1. I remain uncertain just what direction to take this: should it be updated to the modern world's War on Terror or should it reflect late-'70s/early-'80s Cold War? Each has its merits, and Merle Rasmussen recently presented an adventure for the original game set in the modern day.
  2. Rewriting the rules is a bigger task than I had envisioned at first. Yeah, that's mere whining and I should just get on with it, but the core of the game, the Task System, is turning out to be difficult enough to get the same sense in new language that I wonder if I really understand it. On top of that, I've been considering if I want to continue this way or approach the idea from another direction. That is, is MegaTraveller really what I want, or is there another, less drastic revision of classic Traveller that would be better?
  3. Writing a D&D-based SF game is more difficult than some might think, unless you're just re-skinning the D&D rules with SF chrome, which I'm not. Plus, White Star kind of did a number on my head for a while, since it explicitly took Swords & Wizardry: White Box and made it SF, which is sort of the remit of Spectacular Science Stories. Still, I'm plugging away at this one pretty solidly.
  4. I keep finding myself torn between the desire to present a more-or-less straight retroclone and the desire to update the game considerably. Reining in the latter tendency is exhausting. On the other hand, there were clearly some mistakes made in the original that need correcting.
  5. I'm having a sort of crisis of faith with GURPS. It was my go-to, indeed nearly only, RPG for a decade. As I have been examining what I like about RPGs, though, it turns out that GURPS fails at many of those things. Trying to make a random character generation system for it was sobering. I remain convinced that such a random character system for it is possible and desirable, but it seems like too much work when not being paid to write it. I still have much affection for GURPS, but I have things to work through in regard to it.
  6. Many of the same issues present with 3. are also problems here.
  7. See 5.
  8. While I still love the Trait System, I'm not sure that it fills my own needs anymore. It's kinda being superceded* by 12.
  9. See 5.
  10. Actually, nothing. I just haven't gotten back to it in a few weeks.
  11. It's a crazy idea. It's actually more just a "hack" of Flashing Blades as a space opera, but since Traveller is definitive for that sort of thing in my head that's how I conceived it. Mostly, I haven't yet really convinced myself that it's a good idea, so I haven't done much work on it.
  12. Work on this will be slow. I'm sort of thinking of it as "Hârnmaster, GURPS, ACKS, Flashing Blades, PendragonRuneQuest, and classic Traveller have a mutant baby". At this point, I'm just writing down notes when I think of something related to it. I want it to have the detail options of GURPS, the breezy character creation of Flashing Blades, the integrated social systems of ACKS and Flashing Blades, the personality approach of Pendragon, and the gritty realism of Hârnmaster, RuneQuest, and Traveller. Or something like that. A lot of it is still very much in flux. This is my very own Heartbreaker. Maybe I should call it MOHb (for "My Own Heartbreaker").
I haven't even touched on the half-baked ideas I've had on which I haven't done any significant work. An adventure game that uses the Car Wars pedestrian combat and character rules (yes, yes, Autoduel Champions, Car Wars Tanks, and the Ob-Racing article) as its basis, probably scaled up 4x, so that 1/4" in Car Wars is a 1" square in the adventure game. An edition of Traveller that hits a spot somewhere between the Classic and Mega- editions (probably as a supplement to the Classic edition, since The Traveller Book is back in print). An entirely new Pulp Solar System setting, with my own versions of ancient Mars and swampy Venus (and the other planets). Returning to the WRG Ancients-based adventure game in a more serious fashion. My own attempt at GURPS Warhammer 40,000.

So, how do I prioritize these? I'm thinking that Spectacular Science Stories is my most important project right now, so that should be what I work on until it is finished, with the only intruding project being MOHb. After that, I'll pick whichever one is the most interesting to me at that moment (probably not Flanaess Sector, though, because that would be just too much SF all in a row) and work on it until I'm finished with that one, and so on. One project at a time might just be the best way to go.

What do you think?

*Some people say that this is an incorrect spelling of "superseded". Those people are wrong.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Four Years

That's how long you've been putting up with me. I started this blog and then made my first post (two posts, actually) on 27 May 2011.

I got nothin'. At least I remembered it this year.

Anyway, from those first posts, I was still adrift. I'd recently left my longtime gaming group because I wasn't having fun playing the games that they wanted to play, and my commute was very long to play them. Life is too short, as they say, to play games that aren't fun for you. So, I had been looking around to find out what went wrong when I stumbled across the fabled Grognardia blog and a few others of the same ilk. Finding a theoretical framework in the OSR that supported my long-held opinions about gaming, I got a little excited about the concept. I don't think that I really understood it at first, but I was examining the framework that did the things that I'd been thinking of as what makes RPGs different than storytelling. My model was that movies didn't really take off until they dropped trying to be ways to document plays done on location in the round and developed their own strengths. Similarly, I don't think that RPGs are well served by trying to make them out to be novels that people play, and trying to fit the rhythms of roleplaying into the well-established rhythms of storytelling.

Whatever, I have uncovered what I think is the way I want to experience RPGs. It seems to have tapped into that same thing that was so exciting and special when I was 10.

But this isn't about that. This is just saying that I've been doing this for a while now, and I'm glad that you're still here. I hope that you stick around for a while longer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Aliens In Spectacular Science Stories - The Koni

Not quite right. They should both be lops.
Plus, more rayguns.
As a sort of preview of the way I am going about this, I have been giving some excerpts from the manuscript in progress. Last time was the Haashek, who are pretty much Lizard Men. This time, I introduce the Koni, but I'll only give the specifics of one of the three possible Koni character classes. The other two, the Koni Seer and the Koni Tinker, are going to be specialized versions of the human classes of Psychic Warrior and Scientist, respectively.


A more typical Koni example.
Koni are small beings, around half the height of a human, and weigh around 12kg on average. They are covered in short, usually brown fur and have long ears that hang on either side of their head. They look rather like a cross between a rabbit and a teddy bear. Koni prefer to live in underground warrens, surrounded by others of their kind, and enjoy eating, sitting in the sun, studying in their study, and producing offspring. They are not, typically, very adventurous, but some few get the urge to travel to distant places, though always with the intention of returning home with stories to tell to the next generations. These special Koni choose between three classes, the Koni Adventurer, the Koni Seer, or the Koni Tinker. Because of their unassuming natures, Koni require unusual amounts of Experience Points to rise above 4th level, no matter which class they choose.

Koni Adventurer Advancement Table

Exp. Points
Hit Dice (d6)
Saving Throw
Defense Bonus

To rise to levels higher than 10, the Koni Adventurer must accumulate Experience Points equal to double those of the previous level. Therefore, 11th level requires 2,200,000 Experience Points, 12th requires 4,400,000, and so on.

Koni Adventurer Class Abilities

Prime Requisite: A Koni Adventurer may choose whether to use Strength or Dexterity as their Prime Requisite, but the player must choose one or the other on creating the character, and may not change it thereafter. A Prime Requisite of 15+ gives a +5% bonus to earned Experience Points while a Prime Requisite of 6 or lower incurs a penalty of -5% to Experience Points gained, as normal.

Small Size: Because of their size, Koni have a higher Defense Bonus than human Adventurers do. However, they lose all of it if they wear most types of armor, as normal.

Deadly Accuracy: Koni have an almost preternatural ability to hit their targets with ranged weapons. They gain a +2 bonus to hit with any missile or beam weapon. This includes artillery.

Near Invisibility: If they don’t want to be seen or heard, it is very difficult to find Koni. In any non-combat situation, a Koni can move in such a way that they can’t be seen if there is any cover at all, even shadowy areas, and their silent movement is the stuff of spacers’ wonder-stories.

Saving Throw: Koni Adventurers gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against death and poison, and also a +4 bonus to saving throws against psychic abilities.

Establish Warren: At any time after reaching 4th level, a Koni Adventurer can establish a Warren if they choose. Usually, this will be in a pleasant dale, a beautiful river valley, or among pastoral hills. Once established, other Koni will come to settle the Warren.

Obviously, the Koni are very much inspired by the halflings of Swords & Wizardry, but as usual I am trying to eliminate artificial level caps in exchange for procedural, practical limits. The idea for how to increase the class above fourth level came from Brave Halfling Publishing's The Halfling Adventurer. The original idea for Koni came from several sources, notably the Bunrabs of Swordbearer and the whole setup of Bunnies & Burrows, but also the GURPS adaptation of that last.

Monday, May 18, 2015

[Obscure Games]WarpWorld

One of the better small game companies out there is Blacksburg Tactical Research Center, or BTRC. They started out with a game called TimeLords, following that up with two games using the same system (and at least three other main game systems, CORPS, EABA, and Macho Women With Guns, not even counting their minor efforts like Epiphany, but I won't be talking much about those today), SpaceTime and WarpWorld. TimeLords was a game of time travel, in which the players became unmoored in time through the influence of a super-tech artifact. SpaceTime mixed space operatic adventure with gritty cyberpunk aesthetics. WarpWorld, the last of the games using the system, postulated a post-apocalyptic world in which magic returns to our world, causing immense havoc. The setting has since been retooled for use with BTRC's current system of focus, EABA, but this overview will discuss the original version. Except for the setting-specific elements, the rules are largely similar between the three games, and I'll try to quickly run through the other two at the end. Notable here is that the company's supplement, Guns, Guns, Guns (aka 3G), was written with this system in mind, and so the weapon statistics generated there drop into this system with no adjustments needed.

BTRC was clearly influenced strongly by GURPS, but wanted to give more detail to the game. Also, the designer has a few… peeves, shall we say, about the math involved in games. They weren't apparently strong peeves, since the ideas were dropped in later BTRC games, in favor of playability.

That's an important thing starting out: this is a complex game. It is for people who really like to work out detailed results, using sometimes complex arithmetic and even simple equations. If you don't like that sort of thing, then these three games are not for you. Me, I like that sort of thing in theory, but when it comes to actually playing games I'm not really likely to use these sorts of systems.

The setting assumes a short nuclear conflict on September 6, 2016, after which the world changes irrevocably for unknown reasons. Whether because of the enormous energies released or because of the millions of near-simultaneous deaths, the Old Gods return to the world, bringing magic with them and artificially limiting technology. Along with magic, elves, ogres, dwarves, and the like start to appear, as well. In some ways, the setting is like Shadowrun, only with all of the technology reduced. Because of the influence of the Old Gods, items of a "Tech Level" higher than a certain value are suppressed after being noticed. There is a system to indicate how high a Tech Level is available at any given time (it fluctuates due to certain factors), and how long it takes for use of such technology to be noticed and shut down. Further, there are some magical ways to limit the ability of the Old Gods to notice tech, though not with any long-term effectiveness.

Character creation is by spending points for attributes, skills, and advantages, while more points can be gained by taking disadvantages. If desired, a character can be designated a race other than human, taking attribute modifiers and acquiring special abilities and limitations as appropriate. The races are supposed to be relatively balanced out, so there are no point costs involved. There is an optional rule for "halfbreed" characters, whose parents are of two different races, but in the basic game setting this is not considered to be possible. The attributes for a character are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Willpower, Bravado (a measure of the character's bluffing ability), Perception, Appearance, Stamina, and Power (for magic/psychic abilities). There are other abilities that derive from these or other character elements (such as Body Points being derived from the character's mass in kg, with mass being derived from the character's Strength and a die roll for height, cross-indexed on a chart). There are a few templates designed to make creating a character a bit easier, but mainly it's going to take some effort. The system in TimeLords is slightly different, including a number of tests to administer to the players in order to allow them to quantify themselves in game terms, so that they would end up playing themselves (at least until that character was lost for whatever reason), though the point-buy system exists there, too, just in case.

One important feature of the game, and the subject of the math peeve to which I referred above, is the way modifiers are used. Rather than simply adding to or subtracting from a value, a modifier is effectively a percentage modification. That is, a +1 doesn't add 1 to your score, it multiplies your score by 1.05, each +1 or -1 being a 5% adjustment. This is correlated on a handy table called the "Universal Modifier Chart" (or UMC) that serves a number of purposes, so it is at least usable. The designer does this because, as he notes, a simple modifier has a different effect on differing levels of skill. A simple +5 would double the chances for a rating of 5, while only increasing a rating of 10 by 50%. One of the other major uses of the UMC is to determine the effect of an injury. For instance, if a person with 28 body points was hit by a weapon with a damage of 7, a cross-index of the chart would show a result of 5 (= 25%, see how that works?), giving a Damage Level of 5.

Using skills in the game is fairly simple. Find the base level of the skill, apply modifiers according to the UMC, and roll a d20 for that value or less. Some skill uses are automatic (the example given is climbing a ladder, where you could work up modifiers and roll on the Climb skill, or just specify that anyone with a 2 or greater Climb skill makes it automatically - and since the average person has a base skill level of around 3 in everything, that's pretty much everyone). There is a list of the "auto-success" levels for various difficulties, and to the game's credit it extends the idea all the way up to amazingly hard events like shooting a coin out of the air. There's a mechanism for figuring out how some skills can assist others in particular situations (the example is making leather armor, which would be based on Seamster skill, but could be assisted by the Tanner skill). Oh, yeah, there are a lot of skills. When I was young, I thought that sort of thing was cool, but these days I am less fond of such attempts to find a comprehensive list of relatively narrow skills.

Magic assumes that each spell is a skill. Casting multiple spells uses up the character's ability to concentrate, represented by the WILL attribute (and other activities use up concentration, too). More or less the same system, though not as detailed, is used in both TimeLords and SpaceTime for psychic/psionic powers. There are a lot of things that magic can do, but they are carefully described in game terms. There are some rules for enchanting objects, with different materials having a different ability to take an enchantment. Since black powder falls pretty well within the level of tech usually permitted by the Old Gods, enchanted pistols are pretty common.

Combat is divided into turns of 10 seconds, each turn having 10 phases. A character can act in a number of phases equal to half (rounded up) of their Speed. Speed is based on the average of Strength and Dexterity for physical actions, or Intelligence for mental ones like magic. There is a chart indicating on which phases characters of various Speeds may act. It is possible to act on other phases, but such actions take a negative modifier. Initiative within a phase is based on the average of Speed and the skill being used, plus or minus appropriate modifiers (not using the UMC for once). Hitting a target is a skill roll, but there are a ton of modifiers for specific circumstances.

When hit, a character takes a base damage of the weapon's DV/10 in d10, plus extra as dice. So, if a weapon has a DV of 28, the roll for damage would be 2d10+1d8. Odd results like 5 or 9 are still rolled as d5 or d9, by rolling the next higher die and rerolling inappropriate results (or, I'd imagine, if you happen to have the appropriate dice lying around, you could use those). Depending on the type of weapon, some of this damage will be Lethal, and some Non-Lethal. Weapons like knives and bullets do all Lethal damage, while maces do 3/4 as Lethal, wooden clubs do half as Lethal, and so on. This is modified for armor at the area hit (which might only convert some Lethal damage to Non-Lethal), and then converted to a Damage Level for that location using the UMC as noted above. In the basic system, the Damage Level is used as an Impairment modifier for any use of the affected area, and to check if the character falls unconscious, lays dying, or dies instantly. The more complex system has an extensive list of hit locations, damage levels, and a die roll to give a detailed wound result incorporating Impairment, Stun, Broken Bones, Eventually Fatal, and Fatal results. Personally, of detailed injury systems that don't rely on Hit Points, I prefer the system found in Hârnmaster, but this one is serviceable.

TimeLords, as I mentioned above, is about the players themselves being cast into the streams of Time by an artifact, which they must attempt to learn to control in order to find their way home - or to wherever/whenever else they wish to go. The game book includes the character sheets of the original playtest group.

SpaceTime suffers from trying to be both a cyberpunk game and a space opera. This was a problem with 2300AD (aka Traveller 2300), as well, but not as severely because of its focus on the frontiers. Still, it's interesting enough as such settings go. If you like star travel and computer hacking, then the setting (at least) might be worth a look.

As you can tell, the game system is very detailed and very complex. There is more, obviously, such as wilderness survival rules and so on. The setting, on the other hand, is potentially very interesting. Happily, BTRC, as I noted in passing above, has retooled it for use with their current system of focus, EABA, which is a much simpler game (and I think stands for "End All, Be All"). Sadly, they never did convert it to their intermediate game, CORPS (originally for "Conspiracy Oriented Role Playing System", I think, due to its original purpose of providing a system for an X-Files style gaming universe, though it grew far beyond that remit in the second edition, where it was said to stand for "Complete Omniversal Role Playing System"), which comes pretty close to my point-buy system sweet spot. I'll talk about CORPS in more detail some time, but for now it is enough to note that it was a simplification of the system described here which attempted to minimize dice rolling by expanding the "auto-success" rules. There are still rolls for hit location and the effects of damage, but damage itself is fixed in CORPS. But enough about that for now.

In summary, WarpWorld and its sister games are interesting designs, but mostly exist to show what can happen when things are taken too far. They aren't really the best choices for actual play, and apparently even the designer no longer uses the rules. Still, with the right group, possessed of the right mentality, they could be fun. Most of the rest of us, though, will quickly tire of the ubiquitous arithmetic, math, and modifiers, as well as the extensive need for complex and detailed record keeping. The settings of TimeLords and WarpWorld are already converted to a simpler system, so if those are what you're looking for, you are better advised to go there.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

More Examples Of Raygun Fantasy
Obviously, I didn't exhaust the raygun fantasy catalog in the last post! Here are some more:

Krull - A movie that no one knew what to do with at the time, and worse, one that practiced a strange bait-and-switch! Whatever its other strengths and flaws, no one who sees it without having the ending spoiled sees that ending coming, though it makes perfect sense given the setup of the film. Unfortunately, audiences at the time were too confused by the combination of mixing genres that had become customarily separated and the auctorial sleight of hand to react well. As time goes on, though, I think that more and more people are coming to see the virtues of this strange, idiosyncratic raygun fantasy.
Dune - Perhaps the best-selling SF novel of all time, Dune is pretty solidly in the SF New Wave. Its psychedelic, anti-agathic drug that forms the fundamental motivating force of the whole interstellar society described in the six central novels is exactly the reverse of, say, the Lensmen's stark opposition to thionite. However, Herbert clearly chose his technologies carefully in order to emphasize the personal drama of swordplay and knife fighting over the impersonal tactical chess of ballistic or energetic weapons, while still finding a place for those, and his history was designed to downplay the influence of computing devices in favor of the sort of human interests that characterize raygun fantasy. Further, Herbert's own deep understanding of religion and spirituality inform much of the plot and setting of the books. To a great degree, Dune can serve as a model for how to merge relatively "hard" SF, in the modern sense, with raygun fantasy. To my way of thinking, this is one of the reasons that Dune, if not its sequels, is perhaps the greatest possible SF novel.

Many of the works of H.P. Lovecraft approach the ideas and themes of raygun fantasy, though the lack of human space travel tends to push it away. Still, the concept that what we know as "magic" could well be alien science touches on the merging of the material and the psychological that characterizes, to some extent, much raygun fantasy. It is, perhaps, not surprising then that we find later Lovecraftian authors (such as Toren Atkinson, whose roleplaying game Spaceship Zero is one I'll be dealing with as I discuss raygun fantasy RPGs) finding their way into the fold.

It's been suggested that Space 1999 would fit into the concept, though it has been a long while since I have seen the show so I can't commit to that, nor comment further.

Similarly Jack Vance's "Five Demon Princes" tales. I haven't read them, so can't comment on the idea.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein deals with raygun fantasy ideas, though it is clearly moving toward modern SF. Some of his "juveniles", such as Time for the Stars or, especially, Between Planets, also deal with raygun fantasy ideas, and his "Future History" stories certainly fit into the continuum of raygun fantasy to scientifiction. Heinlein, though, seems to have been instrumental in ending the era of "retro SF", perhaps taking Galaxy's first-issue manifesto to heart. Heinlein was also an occasional practitioner of the closely related, but different, subgenre of science fantasy, notably in "Magic, Inc." and Glory Road.

While I'm at it, I am going to start listing roleplaying products that fit into the idea of raygun fantasy, or at least scientifiction, but without comment (or at least not much). I'll avoid more science fantasy entries such as Spelljammer or Empire of the Petal Throne, as well as edge cases like Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, and Mutant Future:

Anomalous Subsurface Environment (depending to some extent on how it's run)

Burning Sands: Jihad (supplement for The Burning Wheel; a Dune knockoff)

Carcosa (tends toward planetary romance)

Dark Space (supplement for Spacemaster/Rolemaster)

Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium (Last Unicorn Games's last gasp, released by WotC in a limited edition after acquiring them)

Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo (hardly an RPG by today's standards)

GURPS (3E) Lensman

GURPS (3E) Mars ("Dying Mars" chapter)

GURPS (3E) Planet Krishna

GURPS (4E) Tales of the Solar Patrol

High Adventure Cliffhangers: Buck Rogers Adventure Game

Hulks & Horrors

Lords of Creation (at least some realities)

Machinations of the Space Princess

Prime Directive (or its conversions to other systems, such as GURPS Prime Directive; while the Starfleet Universe of ADB tends to try to avoid raygun fantasy ideas, at least when they interfere with the militaristic approach of the setting, going so far as to have the Organians simply leave without explanation, there are some indications that raygun fantasy remains involved where it can provide a tactical exercise, such as the Loriyill of the Omega Sector)

Rocket Age

Savage Swords of Athanor

Spaceship Zero

Star Trek (two different companies to date, FASA and Last Unicorn Games, plus fan projects; limited to Original Series and Animated Series eras, and possibly the original cast movies)

Star Wars (three different companies to date with official games, plus fan projects like Star Wars Galactic Adventures)

Stars Without Number

Starships & Spacemen (to some extent, anyway, as a Star Trek knockoff)

Tales of the Space Princess

Terminal Space

Under the Broken Moon (Thundarr RPG)

Under the Dying Sun (unfinished project, sadly)

Under the Moons of Zoon

Warriors of the Red Planet

White Star

The World of Thundarr the Barbarian (supplement for Mutant Future)


I look forward to hearing other suggestions. I'll discuss the RPGs in more detail as time goes on.